Andrew McCutchen homers twice, Jeff Locke starts strong in 6-1 win over Dodgers

By Stephen J. Nesbitt

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Did the real Andrew McCutchen just stand up?

McCutchen, mired in the worst first half of his career, slugged a pair of home runs off Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Kenta Maeda in the Pirates' 6-1 win Saturday at PNC Park. His 11th and 12th home runs this season drove in four runs, marking his first multiple-RBI game since May 29. The 2-for-5 night raised McCutchen's sluggish batting average four points to .243.

"He's going to get to somebody sooner or later," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Doesn't matter who."

Left-hander Jeff Locke carried a perfect game into the sixth, and Jordy Mercer provided extra cushion with a two-run homer in a five-run sixth as the Pirates won their second game in a row against the Dodgers (41-35). The Pirates (36-39) had not won on consecutive days since May 26 and 27. They did, however, sweep a doubleheader June 7.

For three innings, the starters' only hiccup was Maeda opening the game with four-pitch walk of John Jaso. Maeda relies on his off-speed arsenal to fool hitters. They looked fooled. McCutchen struck out on three pitches in the first. Maeda's string of outs preceding McCutchen's return to bat in the fourth went strikeout-strikeout-groundout-strikeout.

Then Maeda made a mistake. He went 3-0 on a more patient McCutchen, then ran the count full. The seventh pitch was a curveball, and McCutchen buried it 20 rows deep in left field. The game's first hit produced the first run.

In the five-run sixth, Maeda fell back on old habits. His first folly was again walking Jaso on four pitches. His second was again starting 3-0 on McCutchen, whose second homer was delivered via a middle-in 92 mph fastball he smashed over the wall in left-center field for a three-run homer.

"What felt right? For starters, that Adele walk-up song felt real good," McCutchen said. "Then, everything after that."

McCutchen recently debuted Adele's "Send My Love (To Your New Lover)" as his walk-up tune. He likes its up-beat vibe, which he called "a changeup" from the artist Adele.

"If y'all don't like Adele, y'all don't like Christmas," McCutchen said. "Everybody loves Adele. ... I rock with that song. I did Taylor Swift last year. Why not rock with Adele, too? Hey, I'm going to stay with it."

McCutchen said it was helpful to see his recent work paying off, since "if you go 0 for 100, it ain't helping." He's dealt with a thumb injury and has been reworking his mechanics in an effort to find consistency at the plate.

"It was only a matter of time," Locke, a 2006 Kennett High graduate, said. "There's no quit in Andrew. "Of course things haven't been going the way he'd like them to at this point in the season. But there's no quit in Andrew.

"Maybe it was a little coming-out party for him tonight."

Locke, the lone two-time New Hampshire Player of the Year, of late has been hard to pin down. His past six starts are pairs of strong starts sandwiched around two horrific outings in which he allowed 18 runs over 8 2/3 innings — Hurdle called them "games you wouldn't wish on anybody at this level." Last Monday, Locke tossed 6 2/3 scoreless innings to defeat San Francisco Giants ace Madison Bumgarner.

Locke (7-5) has four of the Pirates' past eight wins. He allowed five hits and a run over seven innings. He struck out three and, for the second start in a row, walked no one. He struck out Scott Van Slyke with runners in scoring position for his final out and pumped his fists.

"Uncharacteristic of me," Locke said. "I was excited."

Locke's unlikely bid for a perfect game lasted 15 outs. The mystery was smashed in the sixth by back-back doubles off the bats of Van Slyke — son of former Pirates center fielder Andy Van Slyke — and A.J. Ellis. A smart pickoff by catcher Erik Kratz caught Ellis in a rundown, so he wasn't around to score on Maeda's sharp single to right.

Jordy Mercer's two-run home run off former Pirates reliever Joe Blanton in the sixth extended his hitting streak to 10 games and extended the Pirates' lead to 6-1.

The Pirates played sterling defense behind Locke, placed impeccably in infield shifts, but Sean Rodriguez's throwing error in the ninth ended the Pirates' errorless streak at 105 innings, their longest such streak since going 112 frames without an error in 2007.

Stephen J. Nesbitt: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.

 

Locke bests Bumgarner in pitching duel

By Stephen J. Nesbitt

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

PITTSBURGH — That the Jeff Locke-led Pirates defeated left-hander Madison Bumgarner, 1-0, in a series opener Monday night was surprising. The San Francisco Giants ace, after all, had not lost a game since April 20, and the Pirates had not won any of their previous five games, and only one of 11.

That the difference in the game was a solo shot from light-hitting catcher Erik Kratz? Shocking.

But the unlikely pitcher-catcher battery of Locke and Kratz, thrust into starter duties by injuries to Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart, bought the Pirates a win they so desperately needed. Locke tossed 6⅔ scoreless innings, with five hits and no walks, and Kratz's fifth-inning homer that snuck over the left-field wall snapped his 0-for-16 slump since joining the Pirates.

"We needed that game," Locke said. "The way we've been playing ball lately hasn't been to our expectations."

The Pirates (34-36) touched down at Pittsburgh International Airport at 2:40 a.m. Monday after a disheartening sweep in Chicago that put the Cubs 12½ games ahead in the National League Central Division — the second-largest lead at this point in the season since the divisional era began in 1969.

Locke improved to 6-5 on the season. He snapped a two-game personal losing skid, and lowered his earned run average to 5.44.

At home at PNC Park, there was a brief players-only meeting before the series opener. It was "team stuff," Locke explained. Manager Clint Hurdle had prodded the team, "Do you want to believe the first eight weeks of the season, or do you want to believe the last three?" They believed the former.

"This year, our emphasis was we wanted to come out of the gate hotter than we have in the past," Locke said. "But no one mentioned we were going to have a June like we've had."

Not only did Locke have a poor track record in this matchup, with a 9.42 ERA in three previous starts against the Giants, he also was coming off two disastrous starts. He allowed 20 hits and 18 earned runs over 8⅔ innings in those outings. He certainly didn't look like a stopper.

But he strung together zeroes against the Giants (44-27), a team that came to town riding a 27-8 run, and slew the giant Bumgarner. Locke was lifted after allowing a two-out double to Jarrett Parker in the seventh, and Neftali Feliz, Tony Watson and Mark Melancon did the rest.

"I seem to throw pretty well when I don't walk anybody," Locke said.

Bumgarner, a three-time World Series champ, carried an 8-2 record and 1.91 ERA into the contest. He pitched all eight innings, allowing five hits and two walks, striking out eight.

Bumgarner had sent down six hitters in a row when Kratz stepped to the plate with two outs in the fifth. The left-hander left a fastball on the inner half, and Kratz yanked it down the left-field line. He left the batter's box dejected and tossed away his bat, thinking he had just missed it.

Left fielder Angel Pagan gave a hard chase toward the corner and leaped to commit the robbery. At first, he had the baseball. He knew it, as did the fans near the left-field foul pole. But when he banged against the wall the ball popped loose and fell into the first row.

Pagan dropped back to the warning track and threw his glove to the dirt. It was a 1-0 ballgame.

"I was upset," Kratz said, recalling his reaction. "Then I heard the crescendo of the crowd, looked up and he was spiking his glove. I knew he either had a touchdown or an alley-oop."

The home run was Kratz's first in the majors since Aug. 18, 2014. It was only his third hit in 47 at-bats this year, which has been spent with three teams, and his only hit so far with the Pirates.

 

Rapid Insight to sponsor Olympic athlete Sean Doherty

5-26-sean-doherty-gets-local-sponsorSean Doherty is thrilled to have Rapid Inight come on board as a sponsor. (Courtesy US Biathlon/Nordic Focus)CONWAY — Olympic athlete and Center Conway native Sean Doherty has already forged an impressive path in the biathlon world at the young age of 20. In 2015, Doherty became the most decorated Junior Biathlete of all time when he won his ninth and 10th medals at the World Junior Biathlon Championships in Cheile Gradistei, Romania.

For the 2016-2017 biathlon season, Rapid Insight will be sponsoring the local Olympian.

Rapid Insight Inc. is a leading provider of predictive analytics software and solutions that provides organizations with the ability to make data-driven decisions. The company's analytic software platform simplifies the extraction, analysis, reporting and modeling of data for clients ranging from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies.

Doherty found his interest in the sport at the age of 12 and quickly forged a name for himself. He grew up skiing the trails of New Hampshire and in 2013 became the first biathlete in history to win three medals at the Junior World Championships.

Doherty competed in his first World Cup and then proceeded to join the circuit as part of the U.S. Men's squad during the 2013-2014 season. In 2014 he became the youngest biathlete to compete in the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. Today, he continues to compete on the World Cup circuit as part of the =Men's Biathlon Team, building on his already impressive career.

5-26-sean-doherty-and-mike-laracy"Sean (Doherty, left) is an inspiration to so many people here in the Mount Washington Valley and we saw our sponsorship as a great extension of our community involvement," said Mike Laracy (right), Rapid Insight CEO. (COURTESY PHOTO)"As I start my training for the upcoming season, I am really excited to have Rapid Insight on board as a sponsor. I always appreciate how much support I get from the Mount Washington Valley," Doherty said when asked about his new sponsor.

Mike Laracy, CEO at Rapid Insight, said: "Everyone who works at Rapid Insight is very involved in our local community. Sean is an inspiration to so many people here in the Mount Washington Valley and we saw our sponsorship as a great extension of our community involvement."

During Doherty's 2016-2017 season, Rapid Insight will be posting updates on news and results on www.rapidinsightinc.com.

You can also visit www.usbiathlon.org to learn more about the US Biathlon Team.

 

 

Will Pollard ready to be a Wildcat

By Lloyd Jones

CONWAY — Quarterback Will Pollard is taking his talents to the University of New Hampshire this fall.

Pollard, who set a host of records at Kennett High School in his four years under center, accepted an offer from the Wildcats in March. He might be the ideal choice for UNH, as the Cats like to have a throwing and running quarterback.

"I can't wait," Pollard, 18, of Intervale, said.

As an Eagle, Will was a four-year starter. He passed for 3,996 yards, 46 touchdowns and a 60 percent completion rate.

Pollard also rushed for 2,158 yards, 25 touchdowns and averaged over 10 yards per carry for his career.

Pollard, who was named all conference three years in a row, helped Kennett to a combined 26-13 record, including going 17-3 in his final two seasons.

"I was lucky to have had such great receivers and linemen," the son of Kristin Honsberger and Thom Pollard, said. "My teammates mean the world to me."

Will Pollard is going to spend his first year in the UNH program as a red-shirt, meaning he can practice with the team but won't play in any games this year, thus maintaining all four years of his collegiate eligibility.

Pollard heard from several of colleges interested in recruiting him. He had offers to play at Division II and III schools, but wanted to play at the highest level he could, accepting UNH's offer to play at the Football Championship Subdvision (formerly 1AA ) football level.

"Early on I was looking at Central Connecticut State University and Wagner (in upstate N.Y.), a bunch of FCS (Football Championship Subdvision) schools," Pollard said. "It's tough to get recruited in New Hampshire as a quarterback. My film is better than a lot of the quarterbacks schools are looking at but they see the competition as better in other states. A lot of schools will take the kid that might not have as good a film, but is playing in Florida (against stiffer competition) over me."

Pollard said he narrowed his list down to UNH, Wagner, Assumption and Merrimack College.

"UNH kind of pulled the trigger on me late because I didn't get my film to them that early," he said. "After the season I got a call from the recruiting coordinator (Kyle McAllister) and I was so surprised. He said they wanted to see my film so I sent it and then he came up here and everything went well. Then he and the head coach (Sean McDonnell) came up and met with me and Coach (Vaughn) Beckwith, and they said they wanted to get me down for my official visit (to the campus).

"This was in January and I stayed a Friday and Saturday night down there with another recruit," Pollard continued. "We did a bunch of stuff during the day, like checking out the facilities and talking with members of the team."

At the end of his visit, Pollard committed to the Wildcats.

"I'm called a preferred walk-on because I came to them so late in the process," Pollard explained. "What happens is, if I get top three on the depth chart at all at any point, I get a full scholarship. I think next year or honestly even by the end of this year, I think I can do that."

In this day and age, having footage of an athlete is a critical part of the recruitment process.

"There's this thing called Hudle, where schools can just look you up on that," Pollard said. "It's a good way to get recruited. It's what all of the college coaches look at.

"(Laughing) It's kind of crazy in that you've got to promote the heck out of yourself. My dad and I spent a lot of money last summer going to 10 one-day camps. They put you through a ton of drills, a lot of throwing routes and running your 40-yard dash.  It's like a mini combine, pretty much."

Pollard's Hudle page has had more than 2,000 views. You can see his highlights at http://www.hudl.com/athlete/2231111/will-pollard

Pollard is 6-foot-1, weighs 192 pounds, and can run the 40-yard dash in under 4.8 seconds.

"My 40 time is not bad for a quarterback going into college, considering I've had no real training on that," he said. "Once (UNH) gets me there, they'll be able to get that time down even lower."

UNH moves into its new Wildcat Stadium this fall — which includes lights for night games and additional stadium seating — something that had Will excited.

"It's going to be great to be part of the growth of the program," he said. "I'm coming in right at the right time with the new stadium and they're probably going to have a new locker room and weight room within the next year or two. They're upping the ante so they can competed with recruits."

UNH historically red-shirts freshmen, something Pollard likes.

"I think that's good," he said. "It just give me a year to prepare, adjust to game speed and get a little bit better and bigger. I need to learn the playbook."

Pollard, who has been accepted into the business program at UNH, has been told by the coaching staff they want him as quarterback.

"They've got a senior this year, but after this year it's pretty wide open," he said. "I'll really be able to compete after next year. With Coach McDonnell you have to know the playbook. I think I'll be able to pick it up pretty quick.

"When Coach (Mike) Holderman was here (Pollard's freshman and sophomore years) he installed some pretty advanced stuff. I don't think I'll have a problem with that. I already do some of the stuff that they do there. The UNH offense was my No. 1 choice where I wanted to play. That was my goal playing FCS level, but I knew that was the place for me because they run a spread offense like we do and they have a quarterback who gets to run and pass the ball — that's me pretty much, that's what I do."

When it comes to passing or running, Pollard said he prefers to throw the football.

"A lot of my runs are off read-option and kind of just escaping the rush," he said. "I had a couple of really long runs this year from the pocket breaking down and just escaping. They weren't necessarily designed runs. Running is fun but I like to sit in the pocket and kind of pick apart the defense, it's fun."

Pollard is also not one to stray away from contact when he's on the run.

"At this level I'm bigger than most of the linebackers and defensive backs," he said with a big grin. "I love letting people know you're there."   

Will said his favorite run in high school probably came his junior year at home against Plymouth in 2014 in an 18-6 victory.

With the game scoreless with 31 seconds left in the half the Eagles got the ball on their own 38. he connected on back-to-back passes to (Nick) Graziano for 12 and 22 yards to get to the Plymouth 28. Pollard was sacked for a loss of 4 yards and leaving just 10 seconds on the clock. On the next play, a pass to the end zone went incomplete, leaving just 3.3 seconds left — time for one play — but what a play, it will be forever known as "The Run" in the Kennett and Plymouth rivalry.

Pollard dropped back, looked deep for his receivers, was forced to scramble out of the pocket, saw an opening, darted to his right and then sprinted up the sidelines untouched for the game's first points with no time left of the clock sending his teammates and KHS supporters into instant euphoria.

"Will is just a great athlete," said Beckwith. "He made something out of nothing and that's just him adjusting and knowing the situation."

Pollard also had a long run for a score against Kearsarge, outrunning a pack of Cougars 62 yards for a score.

"They blitzed and we didn't have enough blockers so I knew I had to escape," he said. "It's the first play on my highlight reel. There's a guy coming from my blindside and I kind of like jab-stepped in and reversed out and he kind of fell over and I kind of carved my way across the field."

Favorite pass?

"Probably the pass at home to Drew (McDonald, who will play at Western New England College this fall) this year against Kearsarge in the playoff game in the back of the end zone, that was my favorite pass," Pollard said. "It put us up 12-6, and that was the final score."

What makes Pollard's ascent up the football ladder all the more impressive is he's only played four years of school football. From Bartlett, Josiah Bartlett Elementary School does not have a middle school program.

"There was a Bartlett flag football league," Pollard said. "In middle school we had all these kids who wanted to play football, and my dad was like, we've got to do something about this. My dad and Andy Pepin started a Pop Warner team, so I played that for my seventh and eighth grade years. I wouldn't be here without that — it was really big for me. I owe them a lot of thanks for that."

Pollard has developed a love of the game.

"Going from fifth and sixth grade I wasn't quite sure if I liked basketball more or not," he said. "I was probably better at basketball back then. Sophomore year I just really stated about playing football in college. Freshman year I almost went to a prep school. Sophomore year, Coach Holderman really helped me out. He developed me into a quarterback. We started talking about colleges he wanted me to go to. He brought me out to California for some QB training camps. He is like a second dad to me."

Pollard has made several trips out west to The Range (in Livermore, Calif.), which is regarded as one of the premier quarterback camps in the country.

"I worked with Will Hewlett (he's trained more than 60 Division 1 quarterbacks), who trains all of the D1 prospects that are in California. He trains a few NFL backups and a few guys from the Canadian Football League. The dude is crazy — he's good. I went out before my senior season with my dad and I had five one-on-one sessions with him. He just transformed my form and everything.

"What I feel when you're playing quarterback is if your form is good, that's the key, you've got to have good form. I've been lifting a lot lately and trying to bulk up and people have been asking me are you still going to be able to throw the football. It's all about form. The consistency, the form, the footwork. When I was out there he just made my form so much better. I got the ball out so much quicker. He taught me to throw with more velocity and use my body a lot better — that's all stuff that they look for at the next level."

Pollard plans to head back to The Range in July and may take his younger brother, Sam, who will be a sophomore at Kennett this fall, and also wants to be a quarterback.

"He's not bad," Will said with pride in his voice. "It's just his first year playing QB, but with throwing the football with me all these years he's picked up on a lot of stuff. Now he's gained like 30 pounds and goes to the gym with me all the time. He can throw the ball with pretty good velocity."

Pollard could set record for the Wildcats on his first day of practice when the team heads into the weight room.

"My bench right now is 330 pounds," he said. "the bench record at UNH for a quarterback is 330. I think I'll be able to break that when I get there. My squat is 450 pounds, and the record is 480 pounds. Lifting is like a passion of mine."

Pollard is leaving Kennett with just one regret.

"My only regret is that we didn't win the state championship two years in a row," he said. "I think we had the talent to do it, but we just couldn't quite put it together. I always put in the work when no one was looking. I want to be the best football player I can be."

Wearing a UNH hoodie, Pollard said he'll always be an Eagle, but he's excited to be a Wildcat, too.

"I'm super pumped," he said, smiling. "Everyone there is so committed and just so nice at the same time. I want something where I can be committed year round. I want to be around guys that have the same passion as me."

 

 

DJ Shaw takes second and eighth in Memorial Day Weekend doubleheader

CONWAY — DJ Shaw pulled off top 10 finishes in a doubleheader of competitive races on Memorial Day weekend behind the wheel of his No. 60 Precision JLM machine. Kicking off the weekend with his first Granite State Pro Stocks start of the season at Monadnock Speedway and then traveling to the historic Thunder Road International Speedbowl with the Pro All Stars Series tour.

In the Granite State Pro Stocks event, Shaw took off from the pole position and won handily over the field in the heat race. After the redraw, Shaw found himself starting in the third position in for the 100-lap feature event.

Managing his car and tires early on, Shaw made moves around the halfway point of the race, as he fought with Mike O' Sullivan for the third position. On lap 61, the two leaders made contact and spun, handing Sullivan and Shaw the top two positions after a caution flag. Through the race's final laps, Shaw charged hard to get by O' Sullivan but it wasn't enough as he took the runner-up position in the Rydemore 100.

On Sunday, the Precision JLM Racing team traveled to Barre, Vt., to the Thunder Road International Speedbowl for the season's sixth race in the Mekkelsen RV Memorial Day Classic. After starting dead last in his heat race, Shaw made up three spots to give himself an 11th starting position for the 150-lap feature event. After two quick yellows, the field ran for a long green flag run as Shaw fought hard with Johnny Clark and Mike Rowe for a position inside the top 10. Fighting a loose racecar, Shaw was able to make up ground near the end, but untimely late race restarts turned into an eighth place finish after 150 laps.

The Precision JLM Racing team will head to Lee USA Speedway in Lee next for the Granite State Pro Stocks event this Friday. The next Pro All Stars Series North Super Late Model event is the Foley Oil 150, scheduled for Saturday, June 11, at White Mountain Motorsports Park in North Woodstock.

The team would like to thank all of our military service men and women on this Memorial Day weekend.

Be sure to take a look at the team's new website at www.djshaw60.com!